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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Inclusive physical activity is the model of physical education in which all children regardless of their physical, cognitive, and social abilities or disabilities are educated in the same environment with each child’s individual needs being recognized and met by the physical education practitioner and others (Block, 2007; Stainback and Stainback, 1990). In inclusive physical activity, each student is given equitable opportunities to participate as full as possible in the class. Inclusive physical activity provides the opportunity for students of all abilities and disabilities to be integrated socially and physically into school and physical education setting to foster proper attitudes.

The inclusive education model was created in opposition to the segregated model of physical activity that placed students with disabilities and students without disabilities in to separate learning environments. This philosophy also opposes past “mainstreaming” initiatives that saw students with disabilities placed into classrooms without support or accommodation to the students. Instead, inclusive physical activity places students of all abilities and disabilities into classrooms while providing support through extra staff, individualized physical activity plans, collaborative communication between the physical education facilitator, family, and medical professionals, and facilitation by the teacher to fully integrate the student with their peers.

Definition – What is Inclusion?

Inclusion is “an outgrowth of the regular [physical] education initiatives of the 1980’s and is used to describe the philosophy of merging special and general education (Block, 2007; Lipsky & Gartner, 1987; O’Brien, Forest, Snow, & Hasburg, 1989; Stainback & Stainback, 1987). Within this merging of general and special education is also built and understood the idea that each student regardless of needs and abilities (or disabilities) will learn together in the same environment and have equitable opportunity to have their unique needs met (Block, 2007). An important aim of inclusion is to provide all children, most notably the child with disabilities, opportunities to “interact with, learn from, and form friendships with peers while ensuring that the child receive[s] an appropriate, individualized program” (Downing, 1996; Stainback & Stainback, 1990, 1991).

Segregated model vs. integrated model

The segregated model involves having separate programs for general education and for special education. Special education involves placing all students with disabilities together into an environment (classroom, gym, or school) at the same time. The idea behind the special education model is that it will be easier to teach to students with disabilities together because every student in the group will have special needs and abilities that must to be met. Critics dispute this method of education with the rationale that every student in a special needs class will still have completely separate needs and abilities even among students with the same functional disability (Wilson, 2015). This form of education could potentially be more difficult for teachers to successfully teach in because of the shear number of students with disabilities. Segregation has been used previously and is still used today and fosters many inappropriate attitudes while not always maximizing the potential of its students. The integrated model of physical activity and education places students with disabilities or special needs into general physical education classes with support and adaptations made to meet the students’ needs in the setting.

Rationale for Inclusion

The concept of inclusion can be best understood through this statement: “Although some children, especially those with severe and multiple disabilities, may have unique ways of learning, separating them from others who learn in a different way is unnecessary and could prevent them from achieving their full potential [as people]” (Downing, 1996, p.xii). In reality, all children are different and learn differently from one another so there is no need to be taught separately as they all need to be taught to as individuals and creating a separate environment will only take away opportunities to learn, not create it.

Four main points form a rationale to support inclusion from an educational system standpoint (Stainback, Stainback, & Bunch, 1989; Kasser & Lytle, 2013):

1. Instructional needs of all students vary from individual to individual. All students are unique and have different learning styles and preferences; even students without disabilities will have different interests and skills. Because of the vast difference in abilities and of the individuals’ personalities, all students need to be approached and taught in different ways to optimally meet their needs. This requires close consideration by the teachers and modifications of games, skills, and activities to optimally challenge each student.

2. Dual system is inefficient because there is inevitably competition and duplication of services. A duel system of segregated special education and general education classes uses the same resources that are likely already being offered. For example, both general and special education classes have the same goals such as teaching fundamental movement skills and sports specific goals (Block, 2007). As noted above, both general and special education classes have the ability and often do modify the activities to meet the needs of their students; having two separate classes to teach the same content wastes time, money, space, and other resources that could be put to other better uses.

3. Dual systems foster inappropriate attitudes. Segregating students with disabilities to separate classes creates a false impression of these students not belonging and being very different from students without disabilities. While it is true that the students are different in their abilities, this is true of all students. What is not recognized is that students with disabilities are people who have as many similarities as they do differences from students without disabilities (Block, 2007). The students with disabilities could share the same interests, pastimes, values and attitudes as students without disabilities but without a chance to interact and for a chance for students to see this, students with disabilities will continue to be seen as different. Teachers may also have preconceived notions of students or of being able to teach and accommodate the students (Block, 2007). Placing students with disabilities in a general education setting provides opportunities to dispel notions that placing students with disabilities in general physical education setting is too difficult or cannot be accomplished without very specific training. Placing students with disabilities and students without disabilities in the same setting provides opportunities to foster the proper attitudes in both students and teachers.

4. Broad breadth of benefits There are a vast array of benefits to inclusive physical activity that outweigh the positives of a segregated model of physical activity including changing attitudes, providing optimal challenge, and increasing positive experiences.

Barriers to Inclusion

Getting past peoples attitudes and preconceived notions of what inclusion means in order to first create an inclusive environment is one of the greatest challenges an integrated model faces. Practitioners may think it requires too much energy and time to create an environment that includes students with disabilities. In reality, a successful general physical education class will already being adapting its curriculum to try and meet the needs of its students so integrating students with disabilities should not provide a great deal more time and energy.

Barriers to inclusion are generally context or person specific. The following is a list of context specific and person specific barriers that prevent inclusion (Kasser & Lytle, 2013).

Administrative support – If administration does not support an integrated system of physical education, it can be very difficult to change the system.

Accessibility – Some facilities and programs do not have proper equipment and structures to make an environment accessible for students. Items such as ramps leading into the gym or sport specific equipment such as balls with bells inside of them for students with visual impairments can help create a more inclusive and accessible environment to begin including students in general physical education classes. A lack of such objects does not make creating a more inclusive environment an impossibility though.

Perceived lack of competency of the practitioner – The practitioner may think that an incredible amount of work is required or that specific training is required to begin making changes towards an inclusive system. If they have this perception they will be likely to resist wanting to start an inclusive program.

Knowledge – Even if practitioners have the desire to begin a more inclusive model, they may not understand or know how to go about starting to include students with disabilities in to their class. Barriers of knowledge can be overcome by going to training sessions, reading information on the web or from resource books, or asking for help from other practitioners.

Entrenched Patterns/Attitudes – Attitudes of practitioners and students can be a majour barrier to the proper inclusion of students with disabilities into an inclusive setting. Students and teachers may be used to a certain type of physical education class causing them to resist change.

Putting Inclusion into Practice

Inclusion is created by placing students of all abilities and needs into the same environment to learn with support for each person’s unique abilities and needs. This goes beyond simply placing students with disabilities into a general physical education class and requires aid in the form of support staff, modifications to schedule and personalized programming to fully include the student. These services can be provided to the student by various faculties including: the physical educator, an adapted physical activity educator, peer tutors, or trained teacher assistants (Block, 1999).

The following is a list of suggested and common practices that physical education practitioners can use to create an inclusive setting for physical activity:


  • Person first – The person should be considered above all else before the disability. To encourage this philosophy, when referring to students, the person before ability strategy should be used (Wilson, 2015). This involves students and teachers referring to a person with a disability as a “person with a disability” not as a disabled person. For example when referring to someone with a visual impairment, “the student who is visually impaired” or “the student who is blind” is preferred to “the blind person.”
  • Only mention the disability if it is relevant to the situation – There is no need to mention a person’s disability if it has no relevance to the situation. We don’t refer to people by there abilities in other situations (e.g. the person who is bad at math sits in front of me).
  • Learn the accepted terminology – There are many sources on the Internet and in libraries that discuss best terms to use when referring to specific disabilities. Another way to determine the best terminology to use is to simply ask the students how they want their disability to be referred to such as terms like “blindness, visually impairment, etc.”

Modifying activities/games/skills (L.E.T.S.C.)

Modifications should be used for students with and without disabilities to provide greatest success. Modifying skills and activities helps to provide developmentally appropriate challenge, which helps improve student success, increasing confidence and competence in students. When teachers are modifying activities and skills they should consider LETS-C factors (learners, equipment, task, skills, certainty) (Wilson, 2015).

  • Learners – Need to consider the number of learners, roles, learning styles, and abilities of the students as all students are different.
  • Equipment – Equipment can make activities harder or easier for students to complete different skills. Students should be given options for the equipment that they use to make activities more developmentally appropriate. For example, students who have difficulty controlling a soccer ball can be given a more deflated ball or a student who has difficulty hitting a baseball can use a lighter larger bat or hit off of a tee. Non-traditional equipment can also benefit students depending on the situation and can help get past interest barriers.
  • Task/rules of the activity – Some games and activities are not appropriate for students in their current incarnation but that does mean they should be abandoned and cannot be modified to be more developmentally appropriate for students. Rules and games can be changed from their traditional format in a variety of ways to increase success. When there is a vast array of skills and abilities in classes, it is sometimes necessary to have two or three small-sided game each modified differently for the groups occurring simultaneously. For example, when teaching basketball, one court could use traditional basketball rules for students who are skilled at the game while the other court could modify the game into a three on three game using a smaller court, different rules to make the game easier, and individual modifications (Wilson, 2015).
  • Skills – All skills can be modified to be more or less challenging or to meet the physical capabilities of a student. For example, a modification for catching ball for a student with one arm could be trapping the ball to the student’s chest or allowing them to trap the ball with their feet.
  • Certainty – Certainty refers to the sureness or predictability of an of something occurring. For modifications, this could mean increasing certainty of the timing of an action, decision-making, or predictability. For example, a student who has a hard time catching a ball because they don’t know when to start reacting may need the certainty increased to be successful. This could mean telling the student exactly where the ball will be thrown or giving a countdown for exactly when the ball will be thrown.

Determining appropriateness of modifications

Physical education facilitators need to consider four questions when making modifications (especially for students with disabilities) (Block, 2007).

  1. Does the change allow the student with disabilities to participate successfully yet still be challenged?
  2. Does the modification make the setting unsafe for the student with disability or for peers?
  3. Does the change negatively affect peers without disabilities?
  4. Does the change cause an undue burden on the general physical education teacher?

Provide options

An important tenant of inclusion is providing options for the students. Depending on the situation, options can be provided to the students for what activities they want to participate in, equipment they want to use, and how they want to perform a skill.

Preparing classmates

Preparing students with how to interact with classmates can be beneficial for integration and acceptance by the class and for the student (Block, 2007). Providing general information about specific disabilities can help to dissuade worries and preconceived notions students might have. Such sharing of information can take the form in open conversations, lectures, or interactive lessons. Teachers can address concerns, ways for students to help integrate the student with a disability.

Provide support

Placing students in general physical education can be a positive experience but it requires support to make a successful inclusive environment. This support can be in the form of peer tutoring, teacher assistants, aids, or adapted physical education specialists working in classes or consultations and information sharing (Block, 2007).

Class input

Input from classmates about modifications can make them feel like they have a stake in the activity or modifications and can help increase their acceptance of the modification and of a student that a modification will be used for.

Understanding your students and task

Teachers need to understand their students’ preferences for activities, functional capacities (what they are physically and mentally capable of doing), and how to motivate their students. If a teacher does not know their students’ needs, they cannot begin developing a plan to modify and adapt activities and skills. Knowing and understanding your students can be accomplished through reading and building individualized education plans, talking with the student, students parents, other health professionals, and keeping current on best practice and methods.

Natural proportions

Inclusive physical activity classes should incorporate the rule of natural proportions. Canadian data suggests that 10-15% of school-age populations have some type of disability.” If one in ten students in Canada have a disability, a class of thirty should have no more than three students with disabilities in the class (Block, 2007). This creates a natural environment for all students and helps avoid overburdening the teacher with too many different modifications and capacities.

Be a reflective practitioner

Creating an inclusive environment for learning requires lots of different skills, time, consideration, and practice. It is not expected that every lesson will be perfect. In order to successfully create an inclusive physical activity setting, the practitioner needs to be willing to try new things and get outside of their comfort zone. Reflection on what worked and what did not can help improve activities and lessons for consequent lessons (Wilson, 2015).

Benefits of Inclusion

Inclusive physical activity provides many benefits to foster proper attitudes and relationships that benefit students with and without disabilities as well as teachers (Stainback et al., 1989).

Benefits for students with disabilities

  • More stimulating and motivating environment and higher expectation provided to challenge and optimally meet students needs as special education classes often do not provide adequate challenged
  • Opportunity to learn and socialize in a natural environment with natural cues and consequences
  • Opportunity to learn appropriate social skills that will help be more easily accepted by peers and others (e.g., appropriate greetings, refraining from stigmatizing behaviour)
  • Availability and positive influence of age-appropriate role models without disabilities.
  • Participation in a wider breadth of school activities suited to age and interests
  • Potential to meet new people and form relationships with peers without disabilities
  • Includes the parents and special education teachers into general schools which gives them new experiences and relationships as well which can help decrease burnout and feelings of isolation
  • Increased sense of value and self-esteem
  • Provides an expanded support system for the students

Sources: Block (2007); Downing (2002); Stainback & Stainback (1985,1990); and Wilson (2015).

Benefits for students without disabilities

  • With guidance and education by the teacher, students’ attitudes towards students with disabilities improves and a greater appreciation for individual differences is acquired
  • Students without disabilities can gain perspective on their own problems. For example “having acne or getting a C on a test seems less devastating when the person next to you is working as hard as he or she can to keep his or her head up and eyes focused” (Block, 2007).
  • Through teacher support and teaching, students without disabilities can gain perspective and appreciation on what it means to have a disability
  • Students learn to face individuals with disabilities more openly with knowledge of how to act and less prejudiced feelings

Sources: Block (2007); Downing (2002); Stainback & Stainback (1985,1990); and Wilson (2015).

Benefits for teachers and staff

  • Special education and adapted physical educators tend to have higher expectations of all students in inclusive settings rather than isolated special education settings.
  • Teachers learn to accept, have the right attitude about, and see students with disabilities for the person first.
  • Teachers have an opportunity to interact with students with disabilities which can help increase their attitude towards students with disabilities and provide a greater appreciation for their individual differences
  • Increased knowledge of how to provide variations and modifications of skills and activities for all students

Sources: Block (2007); Downing (2002); Stainback & Stainback (1985,1990); and Wilson (2015).

Resource Links


Block, M. E. (2007). A Teacher’s guide to including students with disabilities in general physical education. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.

Downing, J.E. (1996). Including students with severe and multiple disabilities in typical classrooms. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Kasser, S.L., & Lytle, R.K. (2013). Inclusive physical activity: A lifetime of opportunities. Champaign, IL; Human Kinetics.

Lipsky, D.K., & Gartner, A. (1987). Beyond separate education: Quality education for all. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

O’Brien, J., Forest, M., Snow, J., & Hasburg, D. (1989). Action for inclusion. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Frontier College Press.

Stainback, S., & Stainback, W. (1987). Educating all students in regular education. TASH Newsletter, 13(4), 1, 7.

Stainback, S., & Stainback, W. (1990). Inclusive schooling. In W. Stainback & Stainback (Eds.), Support networks for inclusive schooling (pp. 3-24). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Stainback, W., Stainback, S., & Bunch, G. (1989). A rationale for the merger of regular and special education. In W. Stainback, S. Stainback, & M. Forest (Eds.), Educating all students in the mainstream of regular education (pp. 15-28). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Wilson, G. (2015). Modifications for physical activity [class handout]. Department of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.